On a Zoom call on a weekend night, their faces appeared one by one. The women I met when we were eighteen were middle-aged now– mothers, professionals, owners of vehicles. I did my best just after we parted ways upon graduation to freeze us there forever, when we’d lay on the ground with our bodies half in our tiny rooms, half in the hallway, trying to scrounge up enough people to share in ordering a pizza so that three slices were affordable.

But it didn’t work. They moved on, the wretches. I was the wretchiest of all. It started after our freshman year, to be honest, when one went to Ireland, four left the dorm, and I got a boyfriend. It happens. It’s supposed to.

From Illinois, Barbara’s youngest son appeared on-screen, clutching an exasperated cat. We cooed hellos from Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, and Colorado.

“There’s babies,” he said.

There were. Barbara aimed the phone as he held up five kittens, one by one. The Reds score scrolled past on my Twitter feed. I turned the screen to face the desk. Perhaps this is why we follow each game one the basis of pitches instead of runs; it’s more manageable this way. Time makes sense in baseball, throw on throw. We don’t begin a game with a 90s perm and at the bottom of the fifth suddenly discover that a single semester at the alma mater could now purchase a fine home in Omaha.

Barbara sat with her son in her lap as he colored with markers on construction paper; Kelly showed off the art therapy site she built. Carah mentioned that she’d run seven miles, here on this day six weeks from her due date, and we yelled at her, not out of fear that she might endanger the baby, but for making the rest of us look bad.

This was ostensibly a book club meeting, but it turned into four minutes of discussion of the actual book and three hours of yelling about which male dorms were the grossest and the best. And it is for this reason we sit in the ballpark in pods, whether the rules posted outside the stadium mandate it or not– there’s only so much you can take of the off-speed pitch, the on-base percentage, the RISP. Sometimes we need to turn the head from the scorecard and say “He barely made that” and “Where’d Whatchamacallits go in the candy aisle?” Not always. But enough so it’s nice to have them around.

We’re all half in our tiny rooms, half out into the hallway right now. Just how far that is depends on how much we interacted outside the cloister of our homes before the pandemic, and the ways in which we allowed it to change us, for better or worse. Did you miss the karate lessons? If not, they probably haven’t reappeared on the calendar and neither you nor your kid care. Are you immunocompromised? You’re probably closer to the door than the hallway despite the two jabs in your arm, and that’s okay.

In the meantime, hold up your kittens and nod to your pod. We’re changing. It happens. It’s supposed to.

13 Responses

  1. hokiebo

    “We don’t begin a game with a 90s perm and at the bottom of the fifth suddenly discover that a single semester at the alma mater could now purchase a fine home in Omaha.” Something about that line hit different…well done MBE. For me, you found a way to put into words something to express about the way life is going. Hopefully you won’t mind if I borrow that. You rock!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That was the toughest line in this whole piece! Sweated over that one 🙂 So I especially appreciate these kind words. Thanks.

  2. Scott C

    It is almost hard to imagine life getting back to the way it was, and I am probably one of the fortunate ones that it hasn’t changed to much, outside of watching baseball and basketball my distraction of choice is golf, which pretty much goes on as it was. Yes there are no rakes in the bunkers and no ball washers, we have to leave the flagsticks in when we putt and some courses are still sending out people in single carts. But other than that it is still golf. Having had both shots, I am hoping that travel opens up and I can actually hug my grandkids but who knows. And actually as I think about it, the hugs, are the most important thing missing.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thank you for sharing this. I don’t have any contact with the golfing world, so hearing what it’s like in other sectors of life is a strong reminder that different people and communities have been hit in different ways.
      The baby thing is the WORST. I have several friends who gave birth over the past year whose grandparents have never held them, and the thought of not being able to hold and help take care of my nephews is excruciating. Hope it’s over soon for you.

  3. Rednat

    good stuff Mary Beth. it doesn’t appear this virus is going to leave us. so we are at this cross road as a society. do we A, sacrifice liberty for safety and just stay indoors and communicate via zoom for another year to see if we can starve the virus? do we B, sacrifice safety for liberty and just go on with our lives like it was 2019 and take a chance we may get sick? or do we C, continue on with this quasi alternate reality where only the rich, tech savvy people can attend a ball game. Where you can only travel on a plane if you have a vaccination passport and negative test. where you can only go shopping if you are wearing masks, shields, gloves and cannot get within 6 feet of another human being.

    i may be in the minority here but my choice would be B, Just get on with our lives like they are doing in some states. Choice C, our current course, Seems to be causing a lot of division, hostility and in fighting in this country and may actually be causing more societal damage than the virus itself, but it appears to be the course our leaders have put us on.

    thank you for your perspective. these next couple of years will be interesting indeed.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thank you for sharing this. At some point this year I will experience what it’s like in Florida. Very open down there. People who have visited say it feels quite strange to be in public places with no mask. I still get to a storefront or office having forgotten my mask, so it might throw me off even further.

  4. Nancy-Carolyn Smith

    Oh, Mary Beth, why did this make me cry? I remember your College-girl Self. I have a little granddaughter I have not held. I soooooo miss the Great American Ballpark. And my girlfriends. Who, soon,- next Friday!- we decided will throw caution to the wind and GO OUT TO DINNER together!
    So, dear MB, you hit ‘most every nerve. And I thank you. God bless your work and gift as a writer.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I hope that Aged College-girl self is an improvement over College-girl Self! You have so much beautiful life within you, and have shared it so very generously <3
      What a blessing you are. Many many thanks.

      Be well.

  5. Mark Moore

    I cut short my original college experience after 3 semesters. Took me another 17+ to finish it all. Then even grad school was “late” and at a distance.

    Life is change, to change means to be alive. That is very true indeed. My eldest DD looks like she’ll experience some High-A baseball first hand this year. She’ll very likely be working a summer gig at her local stadium. She also gets her 2nd shot tomorrow (I get mine on Monday). Life will likely never be “normal” but we can choose what we resume doing and that’s not a bad thing. Not bad at all.

    Bravo once again MBE! I read this out loud to my wife and it made her chuckle. That’s enough for me this fine evening.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      That is more than enough. It is my dream– to write something a man would read out loud to his wife one evening, and make her laugh.
      Thank you.